OPP warning about of dangers of illegal marijuana growing operations

As the planting season has arrived, the OPP Organized Crime Enforcement Bureau Drug Enforcement Unit (DEU) is warning Ontario residents and visitors of the dangers associated with marijuana grow-ops.

In 2010, police investigated 586 indoor and outdoor marijuana grows, destroying 218,168 marijuana plants in various areas of the province. Another 2,190 kilograms of dried marijuana was confiscated, bringing the total value of seized marijuana to $258-million. Officers also uncovered a solar-powered electric fence used to ward off the unsuspecting public, police, and so-called “pot pirates” would steal the illegal crop. There were also eight children – ranging in age from 1 to 12 – found near various grow operations, as well as playground equipment at one particular planting.

Police continue to warn the public about the increasing threat to public and police officer safety posed by the expansion of marijuana cultivation in Ontario. Marijuana grown in Ontario is typically distributed throughout the province and exported to the United States. Stronger drugs, such as cocaine, as well as weapons and cash often return to Ontario to fuel other criminal enterprises, which further endanger public safety.

The DEU is alerting the public to the dangers associated with outdoor marijuana grow operations.

During late spring and summer each year, people involved with growing illegal marijuana head into rural areas to start and care for, in some cases, very large plots of marijuana plants. Typically, those illicit crops are located in swamps, corn fields, wooded areas, along rivers, and on rural, rental properties with large acreage.

Marijuana plants are bright green in colour and grow to between three and five feet in height. Marijuana leaves have seven jagged fingers and the plants give off a strong, pungent, musty odour. Common indicators of outdoor marijuana grow operations include:

– abandoned vehicles parked on side roads or trails;

– people observed walking in remote areas for no apparent reason;

– bags of fertilizer, planting trays, or chemicals located in remote areas;

– well-trampled trails in wooded or swamp areas;

– cleared out areas in swamps, wooded areas or corn fields; and

– numerous No Trespassing signs appear out of nowhere.

Typically, marijuana crops will be harvested starting as early as late August up until the beginning of October.

There are numerous safety risks of which the public should be wary.

Those include the potential presence of criminals, weapons, and ammunition found on grow-op sites, and the potential for booby traps, rigged by the criminals growing the plants in an attempt to defend their illegal crops from pot pirates.  All of those factors could lead to dangerous confrontations for unsuspecting, innocent people – including children – who just happen to be in the area of these illegal crops.

Another risk that the OPP wants to highlight is environmental. Those criminal operations usually involve the unregulated use of many chemicals and other environmentally-damaging products.

Public safety tips

If anyone discovers or suspects an outdoor marijuana grow operation:

– as soon as possible, call your local police or Crime Stoppers;

– do not touch the marijuana plants due to potential chemical residue on the plants;

– if confronted by a marijuana grower, leave the area immediately and contact police;

– if possible and safe to do so, record any licence plate or GPS information and notify police; and

– in some cases, outdoor marijuana grows are guarded or protected by booby- traps. If anyone discovers a crop of marijuana plants, do not enter the area. For personal safety, turn around and immediately leave the area the same way you came in.

Anyone with information regarding illegal marijuana grow operations should contact local police or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477 (TIPS).

Deputy Commissioner Scott Tod, of the OPP Investigations and Organized Crime Command, said, “We remain strongly committed to work within all of our communities across the province to stem the tide of illicit drugs. OPP members, and those of our law enforcement partners, continue to put themselves at risk to bring those associated with criminal organizations to justice.”